Keith Rowe | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Keith Rowe


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Jackson Pollock changed the rules of painting by laying his canvases on the floor. Keith Rowe did much the same for the guitar four decades ago by placing it on a table. Instead of playing notes and chords, the British musician agitates the instrument with bows, rulers, springs, electric fans, and a host of other items, turning the guitar into a sound-generating system. He also uses it as a sound conductor: playing radios near the pickups, he inserts snatches of songs, dialogue, and static into the music, creating an auditory analogue to Marcel Duchamp's found art. Until last year Rowe's main gig was in the free-improv group AMM, which he cofounded in 1965--he didn't record a solo album until 1989--but lately he's forged connections with a younger generation of improvisers. He's appeared on more than two dozen non-AMM recordings since 1997, most notably for the electroacoustic improv label Erstwhile Records. Some feature players like Axel Dorner and Franz Hautzinger, who approach their trumpets with the same radicalism that Rowe does the guitar, while other discs emphasize electronics. Now 65, Rowe brings a refined sense of interactivity and splendidly raw taste in sounds to every performance. On Weather Sky (2002) he exercises remarkable restraint, responding to Toshimaru Nakamura's piercing electronics with gradual modulations of machinelike humming; on a concert recording with German percussionist Burkhard Beins released last year, he uses a radio like a lead guitar, hurling chunks of a Dusty Springfield tune, German talk radio, and the plaints of a painfully earnest folksinger into a field of amp buzz and crunchy car-crush racket. This is Rowe's first solo performance here since 2001. Sat 10/1, 9 PM, 6Odum, 2116 W. Chicago, 773-227-3617, $12. All ages.

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